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  • Latest Updates
  • Guide and Resource Book for Administrators
  • Israel and the Academy
  • Upcoming Initiatives

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November 2016 Newsletter

Latest Updates

AEN now has 352 members on 135 campuses across the country. We have seen steady growth in membership since the start of the fall semester - AEN recruited 27 members since August 15, including 6 in October.

While we are currently seeing the most interest from larger public and private research institutions, we do look forward to expanding our membership amongst faculty at liberal arts colleges and historically black colleges and universities.

If you know of any faculty or staff (including those with emeritus status) - at your own campus or elsewhere - who would be interested in AEN membership, please let us know at raeefa@academicengagement.org.


AEN is now active on Twitter! Follow us here.
 

AEN in the News
The Algemeiner Journal published an extensive discussion with AEN Executive Director Ken Waltzer and AMCHA Initiative co-founder Tammi Rossman-Benjamin on UC Irvine's recommendations on integrating and implementing the University of California Regents' Principles Against Intolerance into its practices. Waltzer consulted with UCI in the development of the "Higher Ground" report and  found the recommended actions positive, although the devil will be in the details. In addition, Waltzer emphasizes that "the line between legitimate forms of anti-Zionism and contemporary forms of antisemitic anti-Zionism must be delineated." Currently, AEN is collaborating with Hillel International in further exploring this issue.

In the Times of Israel, Ken Waltzer, along with AEN members Robert Abzug, Joe Lockard, and Cary Nelson, critically highlighted the American Studies Association's obsession with vilifying Israel, detracting from its scholarly mission. "The ASA will showcase members’ work on Israel/Palestine at its meeting but there will be little debate, which has been effectively nearly completely driven out of the organization. The ASA deserves sharp criticism of its substitution of political activism for scholarship and its abdication of the mission to present 'multiple perspectives'."

Also in the Times of Israel, Ken Waltzer responded to the recent Portland State University resolution to divest from companies doing business in Israel, emphasizing that while purely symbolic, the resolution was also one-sided, simplistic, and damaging to campus unity. "Faculty and students at Portland State who share a more complicated view of dynamics in the Middle East now have their work cut out.  Although the disinvestment motion is symbolic only, there is a teaching about the Middle East [that is] spread through such efforts.  The first casualty is truth in any complex sense…The second casualty is dialogue."

In The Tower,  AEN member Rebecca Wertman described the intensification of anti-Israel activities at Columbia University Law School. In particular, an October 25 event entitled "Human Rights, International Law, and the Israeli Occupation of Palestine" brought together speakers from various organizations who propagated one-sided attacks against Israel. "Despite the prestige and academic aura provided by Columbia University, the event...was an echo chamber. The speakers and moderator may come from different organizations, but they all share a common support for legal warfare against Israel."

In the Algemeiner Journal, AEN member Jonathan Marks reviewed and highly recommended The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East, a collection of essays, blog posts and speeches by Middle East scholar Martin Kramer on Israeli, Middle Eastern, and Islamic history, the politicization of Middle East Studies, and the many errors that arise in academic discussions of these topics.

Recent Activities
A recent CUNY initiative stands against one-sided academic boycotts of Israel within the context of academic freedom, including that resolved by the Doctoral Students' Council of the CUNY Graduate Center in April 2016. So far, the letter has received 154 signatures, including from 25 Distinguished Professors, two Albert Einstein Professors, and one Presidential Professor. An op-ed by AEN members Azriel Genack and Fred Naider detailing how BDS impedes intellectual inquiry and dialogue was published in the Times of Israel and shared over 550 times on Facebook, and Politico NY briefly discussed the initiative in its education-related newsletter. The letter can be viewed and signed here.
 
On October 27, AEN Advisory Board Chair Mark Yudof spoke at Congregation Beth Emek in Pleasanton, CA. His talk was entitled “BDS and the Assault on Free Speech on University Campuses” and focused on the underpinnings of BDS, threats to academic freedom, and the growing trend of disruptive actions from BDS adherents. The goal of the talk was to educate attendees about the critical importance of open and robust discussions on campuses of matters relating to Israel, the threat to freedom of expression on campuses, and the need to educate students and others about the importance of principles of free speech.


Microgrant Events
On October 27, AEN member Jeffrey Herf hosted the prominent Israeli historian Benny Morris at the University of Maryland – College Park, together with the Jewish Student Union. Morris spoke about the military and diplomatic history of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, particularly the motivations and goals of the different actors in that conflict. The talk was followed by an informed and engaged Q & A session and subsequent dinner with students and faculty.
On November 2, AEN member Steve Resnicoff of the Center for Jewish Law and Judaic Studies at DePaul University hosted a lecture entitled, “Islamic Antisemitism: An Obstacle to Arab Israeli Peace,” featuring Israeli historian Benny Morris and Salim Mansur, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario who specializes in international relations and comparative politics of South Asia and the Middle East.  The event focused on the history of Islamic antisemitism rooted in the Islamic tradition, the influence of European antisemitism during and after World War II, and considered what are the implications of Islamic antisemitism for Arab-Israeli peace. 

On November 7, AEN member Adam Davis, Professor of History at Denison University, hosted “Colliding Dreams” a documentary focusing on the history of Zionism, the creation and building of the state of Israel, and the ongoing Israel/Palestinian conflict. The film was followed by a discussion led by the film’s directors, Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky.

On November 10, AEN member Jaime Grinberg, Chair of Educational Foundations at Montclair State University, will host a screening of the documentary Hate – about the rise of contemporary anti-Semitism on the extreme left and extreme right, with the assistance of an AEN microgrant. The screening will be followed by a conversation with filmmaker Nadav Eyal.

Campus Updates

On many campuses across the country, efforts by BDS supporters to push their agenda continue unabated.

For example, at Portland State University, the student senate voted in favor (22-2) in favor of an anti-Israel divestment resolution. Although the resolution was purely symbolic (PSU's funds are managed by Oregon's State Treasurer, and President Wim Weiwel rejected the idea of BDS), the pro-BDS campaign did have the impact of furthering a one-sided narrative and worsening campus divisions.

At Ohio State University, a pro-divestment campaign specifically targeted Christian students, arguing that Israel violates Christian principles of justice and human rights. This is an expansion of similar efforts from pro-Palestinian groups (at campuses across the country) to ally with a wide variety of groups, such as African-Americans, feminists, and the LGBT community.

At Pitzer College, one of the five colleges that form the consortium of Claremont colleges, an anthropologist with clear ties to the BDS movement has called for a faculty discussion of BDS in an effort to put the college on record in support of the movement's goals. The faculty executive committee will be sponsoring a forum of faculty and students to explore the matter before it is taken up by the faculty committee. Responding to this challenge is difficult given the autonomous governance traditions of the colleges, according to which faculty at the other Claremont colleges have no say in discussions at Pitzer.

At the University of Michigan, the local affiliate of Students for Justice in Palestine introduced a pro-divestment resolution at a Central Student Government meeting on November 7.  The Student Government's Resolutions Committee will likely discuss this resolution on November 13, and a second and likely final reading of the resolution will be considered at the November 15 meeting of the Student Government's general assembly.

Guide and Resource Book for Administrators

This November, AEN will begin distribution of Academic Freedom, Freedom of Expression, and the BDS Movement: A Guide and Resource Book for University Leaders, prepared by Ken Waltzer, with assistance from Mark Yudof and many others. The Guide provides university presidents, chancellors, and other senior administrators background about the BDS movement and its tactics, as well as recommendations on how to respond to the challenges accompanying BDS efforts. The Guide is intended to facilitate both reactive measures and statements in crises as well as proactive behavior in terms of appropriate education, training, enactment of conduct codes and protocols for enforcement, and appropriate policies and standards. AEN Advisory Board Chair Mark Yudof discusses the Guide further:
Why is it important to have a guide and resource specifically aimed toward university leaders and administrators?
My view is that most university leaders want to do the right thing when it comes to responding to BDS and dealing with antisemitism and disruption of pro-Israeli speakers and programs. But they hesitate to enter unchartered waters, and they often lack knowledge of the concerns of Jewish people. They also may be listening to hostile voices. The Guide will enable them to learn more about the critical issues, to better understand the perspectives of the Jewish community on and off campus, and to realize that there are dozens of reasonable and effective policies on academic freedom and free expression for them to follow. Many other leaders have already acted courageously in this sphere. They also can view detailed policies that can provide the basis for altering policy and practice on campus.
 
What are the key messages for university leaders in the guide?
The key message is that BDS is not a benign call for international pressure on Israel to alter specific policies. At bottom BDS is an effort to disestablish the Jewish state and to create an inaccurate and offensive narrative about Israel and the Jewish people.
 
What are the most important recommendations and conclusions?
The most important message is that university leaders have a moral obligation to condemn BDS, antisemitism and speech offensive to the Jewish people—even if the speech itself is constitutionally protected. Silence is complicity. The second critical message is that university leaders need to be prepared, before a crisis occurs, with carefully elaborated rules and procedures to protect the expression of pro-Israel speakers and to discipline those who seek to materially disrupt programs and activities identified with Israel.
 
As a former university president, how do you think university leaders may react to the guide?
University leaders are seeking constructive policies and recommendations from a trusted source. When a crisis occurs, they often face an avalanche of advice, from myriad sources, about how to respond. It is a myth that “it is lonely at the top” of complex academic institutions. The Guide provides a thoughtful, concise and well-researched effort to provide presidents and chancellors with the tools to do the right thing in a timely manner.
 
Even though mainly directed toward senior university administrators, what types of information in the guide could also be helpful for faculty members?
The Guide is addressed to university leaders. But the historical, legal, and policy materials will resonate with faculty, staff, and Jewish organizations. As the old adage goes, knowledge is power.

Israel and the Academy

Israel and the Academy, a website and archive initiative sponsored by the Faculty Action Network, is an effort to combat the delegitimization of Israel through education and information. Israel and the Academy provides academic content written by faculty members on a variety of topics, including Israeli history and culture, Jewish studies, and the conflict in the Middle East.  It is a special project conceived  by AEN member Cary Nelson, with many other AEN members serving as contributors and advisory board members. AEN discussed this project with Professor Nelson, the Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign:
What is the purpose of Israel and the Academy?
The primary purpose is educational, and the bulk of its material is largely nonpolitical, but the site also offers substantial targeted resources to help people fight the movement to boycott Israel, including fliers, essays, reports, and documentary accounts that can be distributed on campus, in professional organizations, and in communities. 
 
Why did you and the other initiators feel that this was the right time to establish this project?
I think we all felt it was overdue. We wanted it yesterday, though it is true that the BDS movement has grown and diversified since 2014, so the need has grown.
 
What are some ways in which our members - many of whom are in disciplines outside of Israel/Jewish Studies - can fully take advantage of the resources available in Israel and the Academy?
First of all, the BDS movement crosses all disciplines, and affects the climate for everyone on campus. The fliers, for example, are not discipline specific. Anyone can use them. But the huge syllabus library - it will soon include 500 syllabi - will be of interest to anyone who cares about Jewish or Israeli history or culture.
 
Faculty members can use the syllabi to design new courses or revise existing ones. Faculty, students, and members of the public can use the syllabi to find out about Jewish studies as a field and learn about what is studied in courses across the world. The syllabi also represent self-guided reading lists - if you want to study the history of synagogue architecture, the influence of the Biblical binding of Isaac on Jewish culture and religion, or the history of the Holocaust, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and scores of other topics, the reading lists included in the syllabi will help you do so.
 
What are some ways in which students can use these resources?
If they are involved in campus debates about Israel, they can gather resources here in a matter of minutes. If they want to study topics like the two-state solution in detail, they can read what amount to several books’ worth of material about the topic on the site. So, it offers both quick access to resources and material for intensive study. They can also get a sense of what kinds of courses they would like to see added to their own campus curriculum by seeing what is available elsewhere.
 
If our members would like to submit their own scholarship as a resource for inclusion in Israel and the Academy, how should they do so?
That’s easy. Send PDFs or Word documents to admin@israelandtheacademy.org. Anyone can send one or more of their own syllabi on any aspect of Jewish history or culture. People who want to reprint previously published essays should make certain they have permission. We are also publishing new essays on the site.

Upcoming Initiatives

AEN is organizing a regional convening for faculty members in Atlanta on December 9-10. The convening will consist of a reception and dinner with Ken Waltzer and a guest speaker, as well as a workshop the following day.

Additional convenings are planned in Madison and Los Angeles. We will update soon with specific dates and more details on these gatherings.

If you are interested in applying for an AEN microgrant, please fill out the application, with as much specific information about your event or initiative as possible, here:
 
AEN is  establishing an AEN National Speakers’ Bureau, with experts on one or more issues relevant to AEN, including the BDS movement, academic freedom and free speech on campus, Israeli history, society, and contemporary governance, Israeli diversity, the relationship between Israel and its Arab citizens, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel and the post-1967 occupation, US-Israel relations, the challenge of antisemitism and antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism, and strategies for opposing the BDS narrative. These speakers will be available to give public talks – followed by a class or seminar with faculty and students – on campuses across the country based on invitations from AEN members. A complete list of the AEN Speakers' Bureau members, as well a form that AEN members can use to request speakers for their campuses, will soon be available.  Honoraria for the speakers will be covered by the AEN.
 
AEN is also organizing symposia on academic freedom hosted prominently on a few campuses. We will update soon with more information, dates and locations.


In future newsletters, we would like to highlight our members' activities. If you would like to share any information about AEN-related work on your campus, please let us know at raeefa@academicengagement.org.

We hope you have a great Election Day and a happy Thanksgiving!
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